The New York City Police Department will eliminate its plainclothes anti-crime units and will transfer those personnel to detective assignments and neighborhood policing, said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea on Monday.
“Thankfully, here in New York City, angry demonstrations have turned peaceful. Thoughtful discussions about reform have emerged,” Shea said during a news conference, adding that it will affect about 600 officers.
“We welcome reform, but we also believe that meaningful reform starts from within,” he told reporters.
Shea noted that the move is “not without risk,” questioning whether the decision would result in fewer guns being taken off the streets of New York City. But he said the risk rests “squarely on my shoulders.”
The move comes after sometimes violent demonstrations including arson, riots, and vandalism in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, which reignited the Black Lives Matter protest movement.
“This is a seismic shift in the culture of how the NYPD polices this great city,” he said. “I would consider this in the realm of closing one of the last chapters of ‘Stop, Question and Frisk’… I think it’s time to more forward and change how we police in this city. We can do it with brains. We can do it with guile. We can move away from brute force.”
Shea noted that the anti-crime officers are involved in a significant number of shootings and generate the most complaints compared to other NYPD units.
“There will continue to be plainclothes units in the NYPD, whether it’s in surveillance teams, whether it’s narcotics or things of that nature, but … when you look at the number of anti-crime officers that operate within New York City and you look at a disproportionate, quite frankly, proportion of complaints, shootings … again, I think we can do better,” he said.
“We’ve shown that we can build prosecutable cases, with evidence, with intelligence, with video, and, make no mistake, we will need the cooperation of the five district attorneys … but we also have to do it with the communities that we serve,” Shea added. “We need cooperation, we need trust, and all of this goes into this decision.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have both called for police reforms but both have stopped short of calling to defund police departments. Cuomo said on June 7 that police departments will not be defunded, noting that there are tensions and distrust between police and civilians.
“Look at that looting. It was frightening,” he said after days of unrest. “It was criminals who were exploiting the situation who were opportunistic, who were just stealing.”
On Monday, the governor said that he would sign more law enforcement reforms passed by the state’s legislature earlier in the month.
NYPD union bosses, however, criticized lawmakers and the media for attempts to demonize officers during the protests.
“I am not Derek Chauvin; they are not him,” Mike O’Meara, president of the New York Association of Police Benevolent Associations, told reporters last week, referring to the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck. “He killed someone. We didn’t.”
News outlets and lawmakers are “trying to shame us into being embarrassed about our profession,” he remarked.